2013 JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE SRT8 REVIEW
Vehicle style: High performance SUV
Price: $76,000 (plus on-roads)
Engine: 6.4 litre petrol V8 | Power/Torque: 344kW/624Nm
Fuel Use claimed: 14.1 l/100km | tested: 21.0 l/100km
With a monstrous 6.4 litre V8 and steroid-infused bodywork, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 is as unapologetically American as you’ll find.
It's built like a quarterback, laughs at political correctness and drinks like a sailor on shore leave. It's an extrovert, and it's blisteringly quick for a full-size SUV.
And, finally, it's on sale in Australia.
We spent a day behind the wheel of Jeep's newest performance flagship, putting it to the test on both public roads and a private test track. In both environments, it absolutely blew us away.
For a car this large to accelerate, turn and stop with such rapidity is nothing short of amazing. The fact a vehicle with such performance retails for $76,000 is even more astounding.
It's familiar territory inside the Grand Cherokee SRT8. The steering wheel, heavily-bolstered front seats and carbon-fibre trim are unique to the SRT8, but all other interior fittings are shared with the 'regular' Grand Cherokee range.
That means plastic quality is less than stellar and there's still the issue of the foot-operated parking brake intruding on legroom, but the SRT8-specific sports seats do add a great deal to overall comfort levels.
The steering wheel is an improvement on the standard item too, although the wheel-mounted shift paddles are placed too close to the rim for our liking and the silver-painted section at the bottom of the wheel feels cheap.
But while quality may be so-so, the SRT8 excels in terms of how much gadgetry it offers.
It's fully loaded, and advanced features like radar-assisted cruise control, a blind spot monitor, bi-xenon headlamps and a power-adjustable steering column are all standard.
Adding to that, there's sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, heated outer rear seats, a powered tailgate and a nine-speaker stereo system with 40GB hard drive, USB input and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity.
One of the Grand Cherokee SRT8's cooler party tricks is the Performance Pages sub-menu in the trip computer. Here, drivers can time themselves in 0-100km/h sprints, 100-0km/h braking tests, quarter-mile runs and eighth-mile runs.
Not only that, but it can also display lateral and longitudinal G forces. All of these functions are basically useless out on the street, but their cool factor is undeniable.
Disappointingly though, the Grand Cherokee SRT8 only displays this data in the tiny MFD between the tacho and speedometer.
The Chrysler 300 SRT8 is able to display the same information (plus read-outs from various other on-board sensors) in a slick colour screen within its larger touchscreen display.
ON THE ROAD
Thumb the starter button and the engine ignites with a deep gruff bark, settling to a throbby idle.
Tickle the accelerator, and it moves keenly forward. The SRT8 may weigh just under 2.4 tonne, but with 344kW and 624Nm from its naturally-aspirated 6.4 litre V8, it's got the muscle to match its metal.
Around town, it's relaxed. Revs don't need to rise any higher than 2400rpm to make good progress, and the five-speed automatic slurs smoothly up and down the gears.
But who cares. The SRT8 is all about performance, and it delivers.
Firewall the accelerator and the big SUV leaps forward like a sprinter, piling on speed in an almost relentless surge of acceleration.
Jeep claims it will hit triple-digit speeds in less than five seconds, but after a couple of timed runs the best we could do was 5.3 seconds to 100km/h. No cigar, but still a mightily impressive time for such a monstrously big car.
It will also run to a top speed of 255km/h. On the bumpy high-speed ring at the Anglesea proving ground in Victoria, we managed to see around 230km/h on the speedometer. Wind resistance be damned.
But while the SRT8 doesn't raise a sweat in reaching such velocities, it's not exactly comfortable if the road isn't completely smooth.
Its firm suspension makes it jiggle and squirm over bumps, and there's a significant amount of play in the steering around dead-centre.
The latter is most likely down to tyre sidewall height (with a 295/45R20 profile, the Pirelli Scorpion tyres have a relatively tall sidewall for a performance car), while the former results from the need for ultra-stiff springs and dampers to contain the Grand Cherokee's mass.
At more sensible speeds though, it's far more comfortable.
With the Selec-Track chassis system set to Auto, the adjustable dampers have decent compliance while still maintaining a high degree of roll resistance.
Sport mode tightens up the damper valving further, while Track mode brings a rock-hard ride, virtually zero body roll and a less restrictive stability control calibration.
On a tight, twisting handling course, the SRT8 doesn't quite feel as agile as, say, a BMW X5 M. But besides the initial softness of the steering's response, the SRT8 can really hang on in a tight corner.
In Sport mode, the level of grip is incredibly impressive. It took a very tight downhill left-hander to unsettle the rear, and even when the back stepped out it remained controllable.
The SRT8 is equipped with a faster steering rack than the rest of the Grand Cherokee line up, with a 17.5:1 rack ratio. Not quite sports-car quick, but definitely a lot more responsive than the regular hardware.
Being 4WD, power can also be applied much earlier in the corner. However, be prepared to hang onto the wheel when you stomp the throttle, as there's a significant amount of torque-steer when the wheel is off-centre.
Braking performance is astounding.
The big Brembo calipers and 380mm/350mm discs wash off speed rapidly, and although a quick downhill run brought on a moderate amount of fade, they hauled up the SRT8's 2.4-tonne mass with ease every time.
Our only major complaint centres around the SRT8's five-speed automatic transmission. It's an old design, and the basic hardware used to see service in Mercedes-Benz' AMG range.
Its ability to handle high levels of torque made it the only gearbox available to Jeep for the SRT8, but while it excels in durability it's a disappointment as a performance transmission.
We don't have any issues with the number of ratios on hand – with 644Nm, the SRT8's V8 can easily leap the gaps between each gear – but rather its shift calibration. It's quick on upshifts, whether in automatic or manual mode, but it drags on the engine during manual downshifts.
Is it so hard to program in a throttle blip to smooth the transition between gears? Other manufacturers have managed to extend the life of a transmission by doing exactly that, so why not Jeep?
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
It's not perfect – transmission refinement, interior refinement and steering response aren't quite there yet – but, for the money, the Grand Cherokee SRT8 is absolutely unbeatable.
Jeep is confident enough to declare cars like the BMW X5 M, Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Mercedes-Benz ML 63 AMG as opponents for the SRT8, and while the Jeep might not feel quite as dynamic, it comes amazingly close to each of its German rivals in terms of straight-line performance.
Greenies will hate it; it’s not a car for a carbon-stressed age. But even with today's inflated petrol prices, we've no doubt that the Grand Cherokee SRT8 will find plenty of buyers.
With such abundant performance, space and equipment for $76,000, how could it not?
The 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee is priced at $76,000, plus on-road costs.
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